SEATTLE – In the Green Bay Packers’ locker room, conversation never reached a level louder than you'd hear in a library. It was so quiet, the noise of the wheels of an equipment cart dragging on the tiled shower floor sounded like a jackhammer.
The only time it really got loud was when Seattle Seahawks fans still in their seats reacted as their team was presented the NFC championship trophy on the field. There's no way the Packers didn't hear that roar.
Every great moment in sports has a flip side like Green Bay experienced. Packers tight end Brandon Bostick, who has nine catches in two NFL seasons, is now a household name because he failed to haul in an onside kick late in regulation. Every time Jermaine Kearse’s 35-yard touchdown in overtime to beat the Packers 28-22 is replayed – and it will be replayed as long as people care about the NFL – you’ll see Packers cornerback Tramon Williams getting beat in the end zone.
The Packers led 19-7 with a little more than two minutes left. They were that close to Super Bowl XLIX.
“We did not finish,” Packers defensive lineman Mike Daniels said, and reporters around could barely hear him.
Linebacker Sam Barrington sat in his locker nearby, head cocked, staring blankly, not reacting to any movement around him. Cornerback Demetri Goodson sat with his head in his hands, looking straight down.
“We did not finish,” Daniels said to another question.
Receiver Davante Adams was tucked way back in his locker, sadly pecking away at his phone without changing emotion. Coach Mike McCarthy wore a blank stare straight ahead to nowhere, absolutely stunned at the end of his postgame interview with the Packers radio network, as the host signed off. Most of the players dressed in silence.
“We did not finish,” Daniels said to a third question, not in an angry tone but seemingly because he didn’t know what else he could say.
Seattle's locker room was a lot more busy, and in the middle of it, Warren Moon was happy. The Hall of Fame quarterback is a member of the Seahawks' radio team. But he felt for the other side.
In January 1993, Moon’s Houston Oilers blew a 35-3 lead and lost a playoff game to the Buffalo Bills. It remains the biggest comeback in NFL history. The Packers’ loss on Sunday night is arguably the biggest collapse since that game.
“Wow. I’ve been on that side too,” Moon said. “That’s the other side of this. There’s the thrill of victory … “
Moon waved his hand to draw attention to the Seahawks celebrating in all corners of their locker room.
“And the agony of defeat over there,” Moon said. “I’ve had the agony. You don’t get over games like this. You don’t know how many chances you’re going to get to get back there. Especially if you had control of the game like we did, like the Packers did. You’re going to go over and over in your head, what you could have done right, what we didn’t do right, what I could have done a little more of. You’re going to beat yourself up.”
This NFC championship game will be talked about whenever the great playoff games in history are brought up. And Moon is right: The Packers will never get over it.
“I think about it a lot,” Moon said of that loss to the Bills 22 years ago. “Especially when I’m looking at games when a team comes from behind and comes back and wins. I understand the feelings. That’s the part I look at when I see a team come from behind, is how that [losing] team must feel. I feel for the team in that locker room, because they played their tails off."
Back in the glum Packers locker room, Bostick answered questions about his role in the loss. He explained that on the onside kick his job was to block for Jordy Nelson, who was supposed to catch the ball. But the kick came right to Bostick. At that point, he can decide to try to catch the kick himself. The ball went through his hands and hit him in the helmet. The Seahawks recovered and scored with 1:25 left to take the lead. Even though the Packers forced overtime, Bostick’s play will be recalled for a long time.
“I’ll just try to deal with it the best that I can,” Bostick said. “I let my team down, I feel like. I feel like if I would have done my job, my assignment to block, Jordy would have caught the ball and the game would have been over."
Like most of the Packers, Bostick spent a long time at his locker, lost in his thoughts.
“I was just thinking about everything,” Bostick said. “The game, my teammates, everybody in Green Bay, my family. I feel like I let everyone down.”
The finality for the Packers was tough. Julius Peppers, still looking for a Super Bowl ring at the end of his 13th season, answered most questions with a few words and nothing more. What could he or anyone else really say? All of them talked about how tough it was to get this far and get that close and have a Super Bowl trip snatched away. It’s not easy to get as close as the Packers did, and it’s not guaranteed any of these players will get that close again.
“This was a great opportunity,” said quarterback Aaron Rodgers, whose legacy would have been helped tremendously with another Super Bowl trip. “We were right on the cusp.”
The players and coaches will replay the game in their minds for a long time. What if McCarthy didn’t settle for field goals on three fourth-and-short situations in the first half? What if safety Morgan Burnett hadn’t inexplicably slid down like the game was over when he could have gotten more yards on an interception with about five minutes left? Could anyone have sniffed out that fake field goal the Seahawks scored their first touchdown on? If anyone could have stopped Luke Willson from making a catch on a crazy two-point conversion after Lynch’s touchdown, would the Packers have been celebrating a game-winning field goal from Mason Crosby at the end instead of going to overtime? Could they have played Doug Baldwin any differently on a huge third-down conversion in overtime that led to Kearse’s touchdown? Or if Bostick just catches that onside kick …
“Put it all together and that’s how you lose games,” Rodgers said.
This game will be remembered for the Seahawks, a great championship team, somehow winning when practically all hope was lost. The Packers will remember it differently.
Not surprisingly, when McCarthy addressed his team moments after Kearse finished one of the great comebacks in NFL history, he didn’t have anything to say that could ease the pain.
“Coach’s message? Not a whole lot,” Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk said. “I think he’s in a state of shock, as we are.
“We have to figure out where to go from here. But this season is over.”
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